Each year, AgPro, ASFMRA and Syngenta honor an ASFMRA farm manager or consultant with the Farm Manager of the Year Award. This is a very prestigious award as individuals who are nominated and ultimately receive this honor are judged by the industry as well as their peers based on their innovation, marketing success, client management, involvement in service organizations and ability to adapt to the ever-changing economic conditions facing agriculture.
ASFMRA followed up with past award winners to get their thoughts on the largest issues facing the ag industry today, how technology is impacting their business practices and the one piece of advice they would offer a young professional entering the industry.
Largest Issues Facing the Ag Industry Today
Dick Pringnitz, AFM, with Hertz Farm Management Inc. and the 2016 Farm Manager of the Year comments, “The current downturn in the farm sector is challenging farm owners and farm operators to make adjustments following one of the most profitable times in the ag industry. Shrinking profit margins require producers to reduce their cost of production and limit the capital for investment in farm equipment and capital improvements. Farm sector debt-to-asset ratios are eroding, which we have not seen since the 1980s.”
Corey Prins, AFM with Northwestern Farm Management and the 2015 Farm Manager of the Year, expresses his thoughts on margins as well and what that could mean for producers: “Producers with a high cost of production recognize something has to change while the low-cost producers recognize the opportunity to grow their businesses. Tight margins require analysis of how effectively every dollar is used and whether or not their current farming practices are effective. Proper analysis of those margins should result in a stronger, more efficient operation.”
Bob Regenwether, AFM with Farmers National Company and the 2014 Farm Manager of the Year, and Ken Schmitt, AFM with Farmers National Company and the 2013 Farm Manager of the Year, are both concerned about consolidation in ag and the rate at which it is occurring. As Schmitt notes, “Consolidation in the seed, fertilizer and chemical businesses has been occurring rapidly due to the economies of scale for survival.” Regenwether adds, “Industry consolidation ultimately makes for less competition for our business and may provide fewer choices and higher costs, which will certainly impact profitability.”
Technologies’ Impact on Business Practices
“Change has been part of our industry for a very long time. Adopting recent technology changes has helped us in many ways to become more efficient and, frankly, better at what we do,” states Regenwether, and Prins and Pringnitz agree. Prins affirms that “clients request more timely and detailed information about their farms; more communication is occurring via email, text messages and video links than 10 to 20 years ago.”
Pringnitz further acknowledges that his organization has changed with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). His firm has 30 licensed pilots, which allows for widespread use of UAVs for taking video and photos for farm management purposes, real estate brochures and viewing property for valuation purposes. Schmitt indicates that technology has provided many different tools and the “utilization of satellite imagery on a regular basis is going to be helpful in determining potential problem areas on farms.” However, he still feels “it takes a boots-on-the-ground farm manager to determine the exact cause of the problem in areas that show up via UAV or satellite imagery.”
Advice for Young Professionals
Schmitt, Regenwether, Prins and Pringnitz all agree that farm management is a character-building enterprise. Regenwether feels that someone new to the profession shouldn’t be discouraged: “Be patient, and look at the big picture. Set goals, and always work toward them with the understanding that you will have setbacks.” Pringnitz stresses the need to understand that farm management is a people business, and he urges a new farm manager to “spend time each day to develop relationships with the landowners, farm operators, vendors and contractors that you have contact with, and you will be very successful in the long term. Be patient, work hard, and those relationships will build over time.” Schmitt says, “Farm management is a relationship business, and you need to build the trust and work relationships on an ongoing basis in order to have a successful career.” Prins takes the relationship-building one step further: “Get involved with your professional society—ASFMRA—at the state and national levels. Learn about agricultural practices in other regions of the country. You never know where your career will take you, and you never know when you may need to tap into another ASFMRA member for help and information!”